5. Cafe Society (Woody Allen, 2016)
Woody Allen’s films are generally quite predictable; for some this predictability is comfortingly great, for others not so much. Kristen Stewart’s performance here was however unpredictably fantastic and not because this is a great performance amongst her previous bad ones as her dislikers would think, but because she once again takes on a completely different character and role, the performance of which, according to many critics, was the saving charm of the movie itself.
In Cafe Society Stewart transforms into the lovely secretary Vonnie who is friendly, confident and charmingly attractive the combination of which causes young romantic Bobby (Jesse Eisenberg) to fall head over heels in love with her as, with a suitcase full of dreams, he moves to Los Angeles, where he seeks employment with his movie agent uncle Phil (Steve Carell) for whom Vonnie is also working.
As she becomes Bobby’s guide to the blinding lights of the starred city, Bobby’s love unexpectedly unveils into a love triangle as he finds out that Vonnie’s mysterious lover of a year is none other than his own uncle.
Stewart’s role as the beautiful and subtly seductive young girl is a glorious expression of love and youth as she is drawn between the two men, revealing convincing and not overplayed indecisiveness between passion and lovey-dovey romance, once again demonstrating her theatrical ability as Vonnie’s artful smiles and frowns are enough for the audience to read her witty mind.
4. Certain Women (Kelly Reichardt, 2016)
Set in the western suburbs, Certain Women tells simultaneous stories about four women all going through their own daily struggles. The movie brings out the essence, diversity and independence of these women that try to stand their ground in an opposing environment.
Stewart plays the role of Beth Travis who teaches law classes at a rural night school. Stewart cunningly portrays the character as a perfect complement to the rural background and surrounding; despite showing to be a small, timid girl, Beth undoubtedly has a burning fireball of passion within her, waiting for the right person to let it out.
And indeed, Stewart does let the veil fall during her encounters and growing relationship with one of her students – a young ranch girl, Jamie (Lily Gladsone) who is drawn towards Beth’s exhilarating energy.
As Jamie nervously follows her shy attraction to Beth, another love story begins to take shape, in between the monotonous routine of rural life accompanied by the bare yet beautiful landscapes. Their romance is raw in the best of the word’s meanings, as the spark between the two women helps them to bring each other out of their shells as they find themselves and meaning to the dullness of long travels and solitude.
Kristen Stewart portrays a beautifully controlled opening up of her character as the two women communicate, if not between each other then to the viewers, their unspoken inner monologues full of feelings.
3. Still Alice (Richard Glatzer, 2014)
Despite being in a supportive role, Stewart’s performance was definitely one to remember in Still Alice as the daughter of Alice Howland (Julianne Moore) who plays a successful professor of linguistics whose whole life, including her beloved career and family, is given a hard shake as she is diagnosed with early Alzheimer’s that seems to be eating away not only her memory but her understanding of her identity.
Stewart as Lydia, the younger of Alice’s two daughters who is rebelliously trying to make it as an actress in the theatre, seems to have a special bond with her mother that is illuminated as the disease continues its tragic manifestation into the family’s life.
Unlike secondary characters we are used to, Stewart breathes such life and development into Lydia’s identity that she becomes a significant character in relevance to the plot without being in the centre of it. All this is done with such subtle skilfulness, without sucking the spotlight away from Moore who in fact got an Oscar for her role.
What makes this role stand out is the craft used to so convincingly, realistically and without any over-dramatisation to pick up the difficulty of a child bearing and accepting the slow and steady loss of a mother showing the sacrifices that are made when it comes to familial relationships. Embodiment of love and forgiveness as she tries to understand her mother’s unwelcome companion as she asks “What does it actually feel like?”
2. Personal Shopper (Olivier Assayas, 2016)
In her second film of Assayas, Stewart is given the role of yet another assistant to a big diva, only this time she is the one in the spotlight, and her assignment is more specific – to pick out expensive designer outfits the only rule being not to try them on herself.
Despite being a thriller-like movie, the thrills are a lot more psychological than the simple scares, which is no surprise considering its director. This however, doesn’t make the movie worse and in fact allows Stewart to have a deep and interesting character to work with.
In Personal Shopper she plays the role of Maureen Cartwright who is trying to get by as (as the title hints) a personal shopper for a big star Kyra. Despite hating both her employer and her job, yielding critique on the theme of Hollywood, power and the fashion industry, her arrangements leave her plenty of time for her hobby of contacting the dead as a medium, inspired by the passing of her brother who died in France, the same place as where Maureen is now living.
Things begin to pick up as she begins to receive not only signs but text messages from ‘the other side’, or so it seems at least as Maureen is plunged into the cycle of chasing malign ghosts.
Being of a similar cut out as her Valentine in Clouds of Sils Maria, what Assayas offers Stewart with this new role, is to dig deeper into her role and strain of being a ‘servant’, having to revolve around the wants and needs of the big and famous, as well as exploring the traumas of death a brother’s death the loss of which seems to have caused a loss of identity and consequently meaning for Maureen.
Despite the range of wild reactions at the end of the movie’s premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, one thing could certainly be agreed upon amongst the critics: that Stewart’s performance was enticing and mesmerising, showing that she just doesn’t stop to impress.
1. Clouds of Sils Maria (Olivier Assayas, 2014)
Despite what may be thought, secondary or supporting roles are equally as challenging and as important as lead roles, and despite not being the lead in this movie, critics have claimed that this is one of Kristen Stewart’s best played roles yet.
In Clouds of Sils Maria Stewart takes on the challenge of working with not only a fantastically acclaimed director, Olivier Assayas, but also starring as the side to an equally acclaimed Juliette Binoche, the combination of which automatically raises the expectations from her performance which she very pleasantly accomplishes.
The plot follows a reputable actress Maria Enders (Binoche) whose light as a big celebrity seems to be burning out. Stewart, in turn, is her devoted personal assistant Valentine, who spends her days by the side of Maria, as her personal superwoman, saving her from any unnecessary phone calls, helping her with her lines and making sure that any demand Maria has is satisfied immediately, as well as helping her through her difficult life and career transition.
What is striking about Stewart’s performance is how confidently she takes on her role; and despite sharing the screen with Binoche for most of the movie and being a significant character, her brilliant acting doesn’t let her steal the attention from the actual protagonist despite being such a complex and intelligent character herself.
And on top of acting with her brilliant co-star and director who masterfully blurs the lines between fiction and reality as well as giving an insightful side note and criticism on Hollywood, film and acting, Stewart’s role as Valentine deservedly won her a Cesar (the French equivalent of an Oscar).
Author Bio: Polina is an aesthete and cinephile, devoted to using the arts to revive “sex, drugs and rock’n’roll” in hopes of loosening up the world by defying the unnecessary social restrictions. When taking time off her edgy crusade she can be found soaking in a bubble bath with a Dostoevsky novel.